BEIRUT: Adham al-Sayed says he is one of four Lebanese students trapped in China, at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. “There are safety measures we have to follow. First, only leave your house if absolutely necessary. Second, use a mask if you have to leave. It’s illegal to go out in Wuhan without a mask,” he told The Daily Star, by telephone from the quarantined city.
Sayed has lived in the sprawling capital of Hubei province for the past five years. He attends Huazhong University of Science and Technology, where he is completing his doctorate in quantitative economics.
Wednesday was the first time he left his apartment in eight days. In a bid by Chinese authorities to halt the spread of the disease, Wuhan’s 11 million residents have been living under strict lockdown since Jan. 22.
The coronavirus, which originated in China, has spread to at least 15 countries, infecting thousands and killing more than 150 people. However, Sayed confirmed that neither he nor any of his Lebanese compatriots had contracted the illness.
“There’s not much of a chance to get it, if you follow the safety measures,” he added.
Sayed had made a post on Facebook criticizing Lebanon’s Embassy for its lack of communication with Lebanese nationals in Wuhan. Since then, he said, the embassy has maintained regular contact and asked if they wished to be evacuated.
But Sayed is not keen to leave.
“If they’re going to evacuate me, where are they going to quarantine me?” he asked. “No one knows how evacuation would even happen for us ... but the Lebanese Embassy said it is working to evacuate whoever wants to leave.”
Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed that three Lebanese nationals are currently in Wuhan.
One man has asked to be sent to Jordan, while another woman, who is married to an American citizen, is looking to the U.S. government for assistance in leaving.
The first cases of coronavirus in the Middle East were confirmed in the UAE Wednesday.
Lebanon’s Health Ministry reiterated in a statement Thursday that the virus had not reached the country.
“We are fully prepared to deal with this,” Dr. Ziad Ghazzal of American University of Beirut Medical Center told The Daily Star. “Our infection control team has been working diligently since receiving the news from China to prepare international guidelines and precautionary measures.”
Health Minister Hamad Hassan met personnel at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport Sunday, with whom he discussed measures to stop the spread of any case of infection.
The Health Ministry could not be reached for comment.